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Study: Minorities making up ground on Ind. exams

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A new study shows that Latino and black students in Indiana schools have made the strongest gains in statewide testing over the last several years, although no one is sure exactly what caused the improvements.

A study by the Washington-based Center on Education Policy analyzed the number of students passing ISTEP exams from 2002 through 2008. The nonpartisan organization found that more white students passed the tests, but black and Latino students made greater gains.

For example, 71 percent of white students passed the eighth-grade math test in 2002 while 80 percent passed in 2008. Black students went from 32 percent passing in 2002 to 49 percent passing in 2008. Latino students jumped from 51 percent passing in 2002 to 61 percent in 2008.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett told The Indianapolis Star that more needs to be done.

“While some improvement in closing the achievement gap is encouraging, it’s not happening nearly fast enough, and Indiana has a long way to go,” Bennett said. “We need to drastically alter the education system in this state to put a much greater emphasis on the achievement of all students.”

Carole Craig, co-chairwoman of the local NAACP Education Committee, agreed that there’s plenty of room for improvement despite the good news.

“We know the schools are all working very hard, but one of the things we’re still concerned about is whether or not the schools are targeting strategies that would specifically address children of color,” Craig said.

Many school districts have tried to address the achievement gap between white students and minorities. Since the efforts differ across the state, it’s hard to tell what caused the statewide gains on the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress-Plus exams.

Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, said similar improvements were found in many other states.

“It shows that if we as a country concentrate on something for a long enough time, we can have results,” he said. “Whatever way you cut it, the gap is narrowing.”

The center cautioned that its study could not determine whether the No Child Left Behind law contributed to the improvements. That law pushes schools to boost the performance of minority and poor children who often lag behind their white peers on standardized tests.

“We do see more focus on bringing up the really weak students,” said Peter Kloosterman, an Indiana University professor and testing expert. “We may be making some strides there to bring up the lowest group of students, and I think that’s a really good thing.”

Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com

© 2009 Associated Press. Displayed by permission. All rights reserved.

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